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July 30, 2019 – Five Community College of Aurora students launched their science experiment on a NASA rocket into suborbit on August 12 as part of the RockSat-X project. RockSat-X is a collaboration between CCA students and students at Arapahoe and Red Rocks community colleges.
The rocket was launched from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and reached an altitude of 91 miles. The rocket’s payload, containing student experiments from various four-year colleges and universities across the U.S., including the Colorado students’ project, descended by parachute and landed in the Atlantic Ocean. Students examined the experiments and analyzed the data from the launch the next day.
The aim of the project the CCA students worked on was to develop a cost-effective method to alter the trajectory of space debris in suborbital flight. The project was designed to create an electrostatic field to attract small pieces of aluminum debris by charging a deployable rod with rabbit fur.
The students also had a second experiment that went into suborbit. They sent multiple pieces of 3D-printed material made out of different types of plastic and in different shapes to better understand the effects of reentry conditions on 3D printed structures.
CCA students Bruce Bell, Joseph Harrell, Ruby Martinez-Gomez, Henry Reyes and Ryan Wade worked on their project for about a year in conjunction with the Arapahoe and Red Rocks students. The experiments are flown through the RockSat-X program in conjunction with the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. The Colorado Space Grant Consortium is a state-wide program that provides Colorado students access to space through courses, satellite programs and outreach programs and is funded by NASA as part of the National Space Grant Program.
The CCA students visited the Wallops flight facility for a week before the launch and prepared their experiment at the facility. The students toured the facility, visited mission control, spoke with NASA engineers and went out to the launching pad.
The experience has been eye-opening for Martinez-Gomez, who graduated from CCA in May and will study aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder in fall.
"When you come to a community college, you don't expect to work with NASA,” Martinez-Gomez said. “After attending the Community College of Aurora, I had the opportunity of being part of RockSat-X which was an eye-opener. Diversity, inclusivity, and a wide range of experiences were seen not only in our team but in all the teams. The feeling of "belonging" was something that was felt throughout the project which helped keep me motivated to continue in my career path.”
For Reyes, the visit to Wallops and the rocket launch emphasized to him the tremendous opportunities available at CCA.
Because CCA is a smaller school, it was easier to participate in the RockSat-X program compared with four-year colleges, said Reyes, who will attend CU Boulder in fall to study electrical engineering. At those four-year colleges, the programs are more competitive or a student might have to know someone to be able to participate, Reyes said.
"I hope that more students at CCA get this opportunity and realize that community colleges, especially CCA, can give you the opportunity to work with NASA,” Reyes said.
For Victor Andersen, a former CCA faculty member and now the research manager for the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, the rocket launch represents the culmination of a year of hard and fulfilling work for the students.
“Working on yearlong rocket programs like RockSat-X is such a great learning experience for our students since they are responsible for all facets of the project — not only designing, building and testing the experiments but also managing the project overall,” Andersen said. “I’m always amazed about the enthusiasm and creativity the students bring to these projects, as well as the sheer amount of hard work they put in over the entire year to get their experiments to flight. For many of our students who participate in RockSat-X, it is a transformative experience.”
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About the Community College of Aurora (CCA)
The Community College of Aurora (CCA) provides high-quality instruction and student support services to Aurora and Denver, Colorado. The college offers courses on two campuses, online and through its high school concurrent-enrollment program, helping students prepare for employment or transfer to a four-year institution. For more information, visit www.ccaurora.edu.